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Ryan Walters’s latest gambit fails as critics outnumber supporters at Oklahoma education meeting

oklahoma state superintendent Ryan Walters press conference transgender people
X.com @RyanWaltersSupt

Local parents and LGBTQ+ advocates say the ultra-conservative politician is trying to silence criticism.

Cwnewser

Tensions ran high at the Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting in Oklahoma City on Thursday, as State Superintendent Ryan Walters faced sharp criticism over new rules for public comments, his leadership, and policies impacting LGBTQ+ youth.

The meeting, which coincided with Walters’ birthday, saw a significant change in how speakers were chosen, prompting backlash from many attendees.

Previously, individuals had to sign up on a sheet, with the first 10 people listed allowed to speak. Many critics of Walters, including LGBTQ+ advocates, camped out the night before to ensure a spot. On Thursday, however, 10 random numbers were chosen from a pool of 37 names, which many saw as an attempt to control dissent. Ultimately, seven of the 10 people chosen to speak were critical of Walters.

Hours before the public comment period, Walters blamed the Biden administration and undocumented immigrants for lawlessness and fentanyl coming into Oklahoma. Preston Bobo, a chemist and toxicologist, refuted this statement during his comments at the meeting.

Bobo criticized Walters for his activity on social media, saying, “I’ve corrected you, Mr. Walters, on this before, but nearly all of the fentanyl arrests and seizures at the border are U.S. citizens. Overwhelmingly, they’re U.S. citizens. The data just don’t support this thing about non-citizens trafficking fentanyl.”

He also called Walters out for engaging in social media posts during what was supposed to be official work time.

“You tweeted this out when you guys were in executive session, which I think is really weird. Like, why were you on Twitter during executive session? That’s super bizarre,” Bobo said, adding, “Your weird car videos do nothing but promote misinformation and distract from the real issues facing our schools.”

During the meeting, Sean Cummings, an Oklahoma City business owner and local politician, criticized the board’s handling of a previous incident where a mother was arrested during a meeting.

In February, Cummings told The Advocate, “I watched [Walters] through his entire campaign, from flashing white power signs to the [anti-LGBTQ+] stuff.” Cummings has been vocal about his concerns regarding the anti-LGBTQ+ environment fostered by Walters and his policies, which he believes contribute to bullying and violence against LGBTQ+ students.

“I want to commend you for being terrible at your jobs and not helping on that deal. She did not threaten you. She spoke out of line because you interrupted her kid while he was speaking, not your job,” Cummings said at last week's meeting.

It isn’t the first time Cummings has directly addressed Walters. He has been highly critical of Walters’s handling of Nex Benedict’s death. The transgender teen died by suicide, according to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office. According to body camera video, Benedict, who used he and they pronouns, said he was bullied for how he dressed. He was in the girls’ bathroom when some students made fun of him, and he splashed them with water, which led to several girls attacking him.

In Oklahoma, transgender students must use the bathroom of the sex they were assigned at birth. Walters has waged a war on “woke” and has expressed disbelief in the legitimacy of transgender people. In January, he brought on far-right extremist Chaya Raichik, who runs the anti-LGBTQ+ hate account Libs of TikTok, to join a state board that oversees content in school libraries.

Local and national LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD have called for Walters to resign.

Several speakers noted Benedict’s death. Nicole Poindexter, a parent with four children in the Putnam City School District, remarked, “Happy birthday, Ryan. I just wish I could see Nex Benedict’s next birthday. Sadly, due to your policy, they’ll never celebrate another one. You are failing all of our students, and you must be held accountable.”

HRC senior director for legal policy Cathryn Oakley summarized the broader concerns in a statement to The Advocate.

“Months after the death of Nex Benedict, Ryan Walters continues to receive public criticism and pushback from Oklahomans during State Board of Education meetings on everything from Oklahoma’s ranking of #49 in the country on K-12 education, his mismanagement of funds, and the hostile environment he’s created for LGBTQ+ students. He promised to never back down, but rather than address the concerns of the people he is charged with serving, he has decided to silence them by changing the rules, less than 24 hours in advance, on who can speak in public meetings.”

Oakley added, “His so-called commitment to transparency is as flimsy as his courage - because bullies hate to be held accountable. Walters is yet again demonstrating his abject failure to serve the needs of Oklahoma students and putting his own ego and political ambition ahead of the basics of doing his job. Walters needs to explain to Oklahomans why he doesn’t believe he needs to hear their concerns.”

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).